The members of the International Press Institute (IPI), meeting at their 72nd annual General Assembly during the IPI World Congress on May 25, 2023 in Vienna, Austria, adopted by unanimous vote a resolution calling on the eventual winner of Turkey’s presidential election to end the country’s crackdown on independent journalism and respect press freedom as an essential element of democracy.

The first round of the presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday, May 14, took place in a media landscape dominated by pro-government outlets and with the voices of independent media silenced or severely dampened after years of government repression.

Over the past two decades, Turkey’s government has captured over 90 percent of the media landscape, including direct control over the country’s public media and indirect control over much of the mainstream media through party-aligned oligarchs and businesspeople, as well as through pressure exercised via private and public advertising.

In addition to this high degree of media capture, the Turkish authorities have carried out a mass crackdown on free media, including numerous arrests and prosecutions of journalists. As of election day on May 14, 47 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey, including 31 Kurdish journalists arrested since June 2022 alone. Regulators routinely target broadcast media with politically motivated fines. Journalists face physical assault, troll attacks by politicians and their supporters, and smear campaigns from government-aligned media. More recently, the government has stepped up efforts to block and censor online content. 

Combined, these tactics create a hostile economic and judicial environment designed to silence independent journalism. They impede the public’s ability to access a diverse range of news and information, tilting the electoral playing field and seriously damaging Turkey’s democracy.  Indeed, as a result of these conditions affecting independent journalism, Turkey’s recent elections were assessed as free, but not fair.

We also urge digital platforms and telecommunications companies operating in Turkey to ensure that their policies and practices do not limit the free flow of ideas and information. Access to diverse, pluralistic news and information is a fundamental human right, and critical during times of elections. The 2022 disinformation law forces platforms to be complicit in government censorship. Companies must therefore push back on all government demands to remove or block access to content or information and must seek to uphold the rights of their users to free expression. Any actions to censor or remove content should only be carried out with a court order.